Mechanical Sympathy

 At the end of a twisty road, deep in the hills, the shop of my dreams…


courtesy of, it’s easy to play with, give it a whirl!

Since doing bodywork on my first bike, I’ve remembered how much I enjoy doing it.  The new shop will be a working paint shop with a booth and an oven capable of power coating parts.


Open faced paint booth:

Price:  $2599

PAASCHE HSSB-30-16 30″ Paint Spray booth

Price: $525


DSA800SE-GL2 30L (8gal) 1600W dual 20/40KHz Ultrasonic parts cleaner

20 Gallon Heavy Duty  solvent parts cleaner

Anderson Motorcycle Stand

Industrial Air
60 Gallon Electric Air Compressor
24x27in footprint

accessories (hoses, connectors)

Lincoln Electric Handy Mig Welder Kit

Lincoln Electric Cutwelder
$330+tanks $300

It’s a work in progress.  Wouldn’t this be a nice thing to retire into?

Learning Curves

Following up on the ‘just tell me the answer‘ post last week, I’ve been trying to find ways to articulate what I’m attempting to do with students so that they don’t become frustrated.  It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt, but what I’m hoping is that familiarity breeds confidence and a willingness to experiment and push the boundaries of student knowledge.  

The germination of self-directed learning should be the goal of instruction in any teaching.  A student who is forever dependent upon a teacher is a poor student indeed.  With that goal in mind I’m working out the process of developing self directed learning in students using Prezi to map out how familiarity breeds confidence and self direction.


Some brilliant Google+ sharing by Liz Krane &
Carmelyne Thompson via Josh Kaufman

Explaining this to my senior computer engineers I tried to stress that this process is what I’m looking at, not necessarily what you know.  Even though the seniors are supposed to have previous experience many don’t so the course needs to be flexible in how it approaches a wide range of abilities.  If I see steady growth in familiarity through guided instruction the inevitable result should be the formation of self-directed learning demonstrated through experimentation, collaboration and troubleshooting.  Looking for what a student knows is much less important than looking for where a student is in this learning process towards mastery.  Mastery itself is really just another word for a person who knows enough to error correct and self direct their learning – expertise never came at a teacher’s hand, mastery is always self taught.

Josh Kaufman’s TEDtalk on how 20 hours takes you through the initial steep climb (humbling and intensely rewarding) when picking up a new skills is telling:

We fail to do a lot of these things in school.  Distractions in the form of bells, announcements, lousy chairs and tables, large classes, and dozens of other interferences break focus.  I like to say, “stop learning now, you have to leave” to students when the bell goes and students who were lost in what they were doing are jarred back into the present.

Kaufman’s learning curve,
seems perfectly sensible…

On top of school itself we now have digital technology which is most effective at monetizing us if we ‘surf’ rather than focus.  The habits we develop while being consumers online plague educational technology as students who are used to being digitally shallow out of school bring the same lack of focus to their learning.  That we ignore digital habits and corporate influence in educational technology will probably be the reason it never does what it promises it might do.

Beyond industrialized settings and digital distractions education systems fail to recognize the basic process of learning and in doing so spend a lot of time and money producing under-performing students.  When 50% is a pass even a perfect pass rate isn’t saying much.  If our learning happens on a curve as Kaufman suggests, then we are doing this wrong in just about every possible way.

About a year ago I took a weekend course in order to begin riding a motorcycle.  Difficult and uncompromising it demanded my full attention both in the classroom and for hours in the saddle.  Not paying attention resulted in possible injury (and several people were).  That weekend course might seem too short but it just happens to be about twenty hours long (what Kaufman suggests you need to get over the steepest part of the learning curve).  With the right kind of support (small class size with a 1:4 instructor/student ratio and everything we needed to learn the skill including bikes, space, etc) and an expectation of focused learning, that twenty hours got me over the hump and able to continue developing expertise in a complex skill set that I had no previous experience in.  I’d have to say, anecdotally, that Kaufman’s 20 hours seems right on the money.

We don’t think about learning curves in school.  We don’t consider how students feel when they are picking up a new skill and feel inadequate; feelings aren’t in the curriculum.  Worse, we consider learning to be a twelve year long marathon in school rather than a series of short sprints.  Student goals aren’t always clear or consistent, failure isn’t considered an option and learning itself is less a focus than are irrelevant personal details like your age.  We’d rather bunch students by age than where they are in their learning process.  We lose sight of the possibilities and challenges inherent in the first twenty hours of new learning in favour of decade long statistical growth.

Can you imagine a school guided by Kaufman’s logic?  Students are given focused learning to get them into a self correcting phase and then are expected to self-direct their learning. There would be classrooms with very high student:teacher ratios where the focus is on early learning.  There may be other times and spaces where students are entirely independent and producing their own directed learning.  Instead of a blanket approach our classrooms and schedules would reflect our variable learning curves; our schools would be responsive to how we learn instead of the other way round.

Digital technology would lend itself to this kind of learning by offering information, collaboration and communication to students on a profoundly personalized level.  If we don’t begin taking the training of digital tools seriously the consumerist habits developed by everybody (students and staff) outside of school won’t allow us to de-industrialize education and adapt it to how we learn.

Digital Motorcycle Reading

I just finished Nick Sander’s Incredible Ride on an ipad mini and really enjoyed the experience.  The integrated digital media in the ebook drew a different picture of that trip compared to just a written narrative.  It wasn’t always better (as deep and developed) as a well thought out narrative piece of prose but it offered an interesting reading experience in a different way.

I’ve tried reading digitally before with older ipads and other tablets but have been unsatisfied with the quality.  The Retina display on this Mini is a revelation though, it has better screen resolution than my 15″ laptop; it’s so sharp and clear that it’s shocking!  I also find my eyes don’t get tired reading off it (perhaps as a result of that clarity).  With all that in mind I started thinking about alternative ways to read my motorcycle media.

My Cycle Canada subscription is coming to an end and I want to renew, but I think I might go digital.  I’m also keen to get into Bike magazine and Adventure Bike Rider magazine, both UK titles that cost me $13+taxes a pop when I find them in a local store.  Rather than get stuck into another year of dead trees I tried reading digital samples on the ipad Mini.

Bike Magazine showed the multi-media possibilities of a digital magazine.  The embedded video and layers of information available in the digital copy were fantastic.  The high resolution images on that Retina display were jaw dropping.  There is no doubt the digital copy is the way to go, and at £48 for a year (£4/$7.40CAN per issue) it’s a much better deal than the $15 with taxes I’m paying at Chapters for a paper copy.

ABR is an even better deal.  Instead of $15 an issue in Chapters I’m looking at £20 
($37CAN) for a year with access to all back issues.  I’m going to check out its digital content, but if it comes anywhere close to what Bike is doing then it too will be a no-brainer.

Cycle Canada was a bit more basic.  The online sample said it wasn’t at full resolution, so it expects me to commit to digital without knowing what it will look like, which seems a bit weak. 

The only downside to the digital copy is that I can’t settle into a hot bath with an ipad.  Maybe I’ll re-up Cycle Canada on dead trees for a while longer so I have an amphibious option.

If you’ve tried digital and not liked it give it a go with Apple’s Retina display, it might surprise you.  The additional depth and media you get from the digital copy only seals the deal.

MotoGP And The Dragon’s Tail

I noticed that the US MotoGP race is in August at Indianapolis this year.  I’ve never attended a MotoGP race before, but it makes a great excuse for a road trip!

Mapping it out in Google, I immediately extended the trip to hit the GP first and then continue on to the Tail of the Dragon before riding up the Blue Ridge Parkway and returning into Canada at the Thousand Islands.

The round trip would be just over thirty-five hundred kilometres.  The race happens over the weekend of August 8th to 10th, so leaving on the Thursday morning would get us there Friday afternoon, we could catch Saturday qualifying and then Sunday’s race and leave Monday morning.  But rather than head back north we’d be heading south east for The Tail of the Dragon!

Working our way up the Appalachian Mountains, we’d go from the Tail to the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Skyline Parkway before pushing back north to re-cross into Canada at The Thousand Islands.

The trip consists of three high speed sections (Ontario to Indianapolis, Indianapolis to Knoxville and Front Royal VA to Thousand Islands), and some slow sections (Tale of the Dragon, Blue Ridge and Skyline Parkways).

With a three night stopover for the Indie race, the schedule falls into about a ten or eleven day trip:

Leave on the Thursday, get to Indianapolis on Friday afternoon, Saturday qualifying, Sunday races, Monday morning departure and cover some ground, Tail of the Dragon on Tuesday, Blue Ridge Parkway Wednesday & Thursday, Skyline on Friday and then the run north for the border, we’d be back in Canada  on Sunday, August 17th.
Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee.
Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachians.

This would be a MotoGP event at a legendary venue followed by some epic rides in mountains that we simply don’t have in Ontario.  The start is by my place, the finish is by my buddy Jason’s place.  He didn’t take his bike out at all last year, I’m hoping this changes his mind.

Putting The Ninja Back Together

We had our first above zero day this week and I giddily began rebuilding the Ninja thinking that I’d have a chance to take it out soon.  It’s been snowing all day today and all hope it lost, but when the sun was out I could finally get to the paint touch ups needed.  The insulated garage isn’t ideal for painting if the outside temperature is under minus ten Celsius which it has been for most of the winter.

On my first day of spring I popped open the garage door and touched up the headlight cover and fuel tank, both of which had imperfections in my initial paint application.  Now that they’re clean and perfect, I can rebuild the front end.

With the temperature up the paint cures on the body panels very smoothly.  It needs to be well above 10° Celsius for the paint not to bead and bubble on the surface.  The front fairing and fuel tank lay in the warm March sunlight and cured perfectly – it was about 20°C.  The Rustoleum paint on the right covers fantastically well.   If you’re looking for paint that will cover smoothly on plastic and metal, this is the stuff.

I’m going to two tone the air intakes on the fairings following a design that more current Ninjas use.  Unfortunately I didn’t heed my own advice and I rushed in there yesterday morning when it was still too cold and the paint beaded.  Today I’m going to be sanding it down so I can get a smooth coat on in the heat.

It was nice to have the garage open and to be finishing up the winter repairs, maintenance and body touch ups.  It’s supposed to be a warm (by warm I mean above zero) day again today.  With the insulated shop and the sun shining in I should be able to finish up the paint and begin to rebuilt the frame on the bike.

While casting about for a fairingless streetfighter option for the bike I came across some cheap options for replacing fairings.  I’d still like to try and source some of the bodywork from the fairingless ER6N, but it wasn’t available in Canada in 2007 and I’d have to go to Europe to find the pieces.  It looks like the fairingless bike has small plastic covers over the coolant tank and that’s about it.

Ebb & Flow

Originally published on Dusty World in March, 2014.

Many moons ago I found myself hiring automotive technicians for Quaker State.  There were a couple of odd things I did that helped find people who could survive in our tough working environment.  One was toss any résumé that was full of grammar and spelling errors.  I didn’t care if a tech had perfect grammar and spelling, but I did care that if given the time they didn’t take pride in their own work.  The other thing I did was invent an emergency that interrupted the interview.  The whole point of this was to test their initiative and see how they would respond to a change in tempo.

These interruptions became more and more complicated as the other guys on the shop floor got involved.  What started off as a, ‘could you help me move a heavy thing’ turned into faked medical emergencies or whatever else struck the fancy of the staff.  The guy who just sat there while everyone else shifted into overdrive wasn’t getting the job.

You see this kind of unresponsive stuck-tempo everywhere; employees who work at a walking pace are the new normal and it’s no different with students.  This kind of thinking isn’t just found in work or school, but even in sports.  People who throw themselves at something with any kind of intensity are becoming vanishingly rare.  I suspect this is a response to modern management tactics based around fear and control.  Those tactics have also been adopted by education, and students have responded with a similar protective apathy.

This apathy is a combination of digitization, systematization and the business-think that oversees these processes.  Current business leadership revolves around creating an unbalanced workplace where fear and uncertainty drive employees into blind obedience.  This highly charged methodology is completely unsustainable, but then it doesn’t have to be, there are always more employees to throw on the fire.  Realizing potential and maximizing efficiency are irrelevant to a modern manager, the goal is short term gain and control.  Digitized, data driven workplaces (and classrooms) are designed systemically to collect data that supports the system; statistics are as opinionated as politics.  This Taylorist wonderland is overseen by caffeinated managers whose only approach is to spin their employees into a panic at every turn (those managers themselves are managed in the same way).  The permanent engagement approach to learning is modelled on this thinking.

Days of lower energy, contemplative work and periods of off-task behavior are perfectly normal and even beneficial to the development of complex skills, but this is considered a failure in the modern world.  When working on anything you should aim for sustainability as well as intensity, but education has followed management thinking in an effort to systematize and control.

A byproduct of this shortsightedness is the inability for students to amp up their focus and overachieve because modern education wants them to be giddily engaged all the time.  The only way to achieve the highly agitated state of permanent engagement is to present simplistic, short term learning that offers constant reward.  Working toward anything other than immediate gratification is a sure way to turn off the hyper engaged learner.

I have this up in my classroom. Any student that thinks a flurry of activity in the final weeks can make up for weeks of absences and apathy is kidding themselves.

 The issue I’m seeing in many students is a benign neglect toward developing complex expertise.  I’d argue that the decline in mathematical ability in Canadian students is a result of deemphasizing foundational skills in favour of short term learning strategies.  These short term strategies stress engagement and success for all at the cost of building complex expertise.  

Expecting students to work towards something other than immediate skill (the kind found in most video games) is becoming a lost art.  Long-term, complex skill sets fall apart when we can’t expect students to follow along for more than thirty seconds at a time without some kind of Pavlovian payoff.

There is an ebb and flow to everything we apply ourselves to.  For someone seeking mastery, even the ebbs have value, creating a deeper sense of familiarity and comfort.  Anyone who has soaked in their discipline without a clear sense of direction knows what I’m talking about.  From the confidence that arises out of those ebbs we push beyond boundaries and surprise ourselves with new learning when we are flowing again.

Whether it’s the workplace or a classroom, being hyper-engaged all the time just isn’t that productive, especially if you’re building long-term, complex expertise.  If we’re all really just edu-tainers, then I guess we don’t have to worry about that, just be sure to collect the data needed to justify how well the system is working.

The Learning Expert & The Skilled Master

The other day a tech-handy colleague said over coffee, “I should get my tech qualifications in computers, what did you have to do to take the course?”  I replied that I had to provide five or more years of industry experience and recognized qualifications in order to qualify for the training; he seemed put off.

I understand his response, I battled the same one when I was applying to get qualified.  It was a kind of knee jerk reaction, a ‘how dare you ask for specific qualifications!  I’m an expert learner with years of educational experience!’  I dug up my references and certifications and went through the process after putting away that ego.

This has me thinking about the duality of my educational background.  From high school dropout I attended a year of college before dropping out.  I then apprenticed as a millwright and returned to high school to graduate.  This eventually led me to university.  After university I was once again working in the trades as a automotive technician before eventually finding my way into information technology and finally teaching.  In the trades I worked in mastery focused experiential learning situations that were intense and demanding.  Academics were also demanding, but in a different way which usually had more to do with figuring out how to feed myself.  I got paid to apprentice in a trade, you are a customer when you are working through post secondary academics.  I saw a number of people being passed through that process simply because they wouldn’t quit.  You saw less of that in the trades because if you couldn’t do it, you often got injured and/or fired.

I took English and history as my teachables because it was easier to simply toss my degree into the ring than it was to cobble together all those technology requirements.  Most teachers in a high school are academically produced, the minority get into teaching through experiential/trades learning.  Those academically produced teachers are expert students themselves, they had to be or they wouldn’t have survived the educational process.  An expert student is as much a politician as they are a learner, they’ve figured out how to survive in what is really an arbitrary social construct.

Having worked on the experiential and the academic sides of learning, I’m now trying to define the differences in the two types of learning:

Experiential versus discovery learning.  When you’re learning a stochastic (experiential, non-linear) skill, you
need an expert in that experience to guide your progress.  When you’re learning academics you need an
expert learner to show you how to self direct your learning and survive the system.

I’ll talk about fundamental learning skills in another post, but in this case I’m focusing on the secondary learner who has already developed fundamental learning skills.  That student is capable of self-directing their learning, and in an information rich world like the one appearing around us this is a vital portion of their engagement in the learning process.  Where once we expected students to sit in rows and be portioned out information, nowadays teachers should be facilitating self-directed learning.  A 21st Century teacher’s greatest ability is their own expertise in information fluency, which they provide in order to produce similarly self-directed learners.

That’s academic‘ has long meant a course of action that has no practical purpose, but academics do generally produce self-directed learners who have had to survive the vicissitudes of many education systems over the years and have become self-taught in spite of the best efforts of many of their educators.

In management and education the goals are
abstract, fabricated and ultimately political

In comparison to my academic background my experiential learning has been uncertain and demanding with no guarantee of success.  The tension between success in a fabricated situation and success in a genuine situation that allows for failure became more apparent to me as I proceeded through university.  Matt Crawford brings this up in Shop Class As Soulcraft when he refers to the magical thinking conjured up by management to justify their decisions.  Education, like business management, is a social construct and produces what Crawford describes as ‘psychedelic’ justification for its own existence.  As his quote here suggests, when you’re learning experientially in a realistic environment you don’t get to say, ‘hey! great job!’ if you’re looking at your dismembered finger laying on the floor; reality doesn’t put up with that crap.

As someone who has bounced back and forth between both sides of the education spectrum I can see the value and challenges in both.  What surprises me is how unwilling academic educators are to appreciate the advantages found in the hard-knocks school of experiential learning compared to the complex political dance of the academic classroom.

I know a lot of teachers who get angry with Shaw’s pithy little quote about a character who is upset with his writing teacher, but I know a lot of teachers who teach writing who don’t do it themselves.  I know a lot of teachers in a number of subjects that don’t practice what they teach; it’s hard not to see some truth in that statement.

Watching some teachers struggle with the surging availability of information makes me wonder what they’ll do when an algorithm is created that does everything they do (I give it ten years).  There will come a time when our learning management systems become sufficiently intuitive and make the learning expert teacher redundant (while simultaneously personalizing education in a dramatic way).

It’s a tough thing to be made irrelevant, ask many factory workers.  The teachers who will avoid being replaced by software in this inevitable future are the experiential masters who are guiding learning through doing, yet another reason why I reopened my experiential past and got tech-qualified.  It’s too bad that not everyone practices what they teach.

2014 Toronto Motorcycle Show

A ninety minute drive down to the Direct Energy Centre at the CNE in Toronto got us to the 2014 Toronto Motorcycle Show.  Having been to our first motorcycle show in January, it was interesting to note the differences here.  The TMS is much more focused around manufacturers.  I complained that only Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki showed up to the ‘supershow’ in January, but at this one all the major manufacturers were present.

What else was different?  The Supershow at the International Centre in Mississauga meant free parking and a discount on admission, my son and I were inside for about twenty bucks.  The TMS has you ante up $14 to put your car somewhere and then $17+$12 to get inside… it ain’t cheap.  Once you’re inside it’s significantly more focused and dense, mainly because there are so many manufacturers present.  The Supershow had many more stalls of local equipment vendors and clubs, it had the feel of a bike motorbike jumble and it was HUGE; we walked for hours and missed an entire hall.

One show wasn’t better than the other, but they feel like very different events.  My son greatly enjoyed the trials bike show at the TMS, and having space out back to show bikes in motion was a nice thing we didn’t see at the Supershow which seemed more like a sales focused event.

I’d said Kawasaki and HD were outstanding for being the only manufacturers to show up at the Supershow.  At the TMS it came down to who took the time.  Suzuki seemed entirely disinterested, Honda was absent though with lots of bikes to sit on, as were many of the other manufacturers.  

I don’t doubt they all hire people or bring them in from dealers for this sort of thing, and we were there on the morning of the last day of the show, but BMW went above and beyond.  They not only took the time to talk to me but also made my son really happy with some stickers and a poster, nicely done BMW.  If you’re going to put on a public face at a show like this, exhausted, disinterested staff isn’t the way to go.

As a new rider I’m still getting a feel for manufacturers.  I’d add BMW to Kawasaki and Harley Davidson as manufacturers who are willing to go the extra mile to ensure that your riding experience is exceptional.  This is anecdotal, but it’s still my experience.  HD and Kawasaki were both at the TMS in force and were once again very customer focused.

Triumph was there and I have a soft spot for such a successful manufacturer from my homeland, but once again the people on the stand were harrowed and indifferent, at least I managed to get a poster!

I had a nice chat with the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group and look forward to eventually owning an old bike and becoming a member, they seem like nice people.

The Toronto Motorcycle Show isn’t cheap, but it is dense with opportunities to sit on many bikes (though not KTMs), and see some fantastic trials demonstrations.  Some manufacturers are more present than others, and I’d head over to BMW, Kawasaki and Harley Davidson if you want some quality customer service.

Here are some other pictures from the event:


The Motorbike Show & Wild Camping

I’ve been consuming motorcycle media at a voracious rate while we’re buried alive in snow.  You probably know about the obvious stuff like Long Way Round, but I’ve been trying to find less known (in North America) faire.  Here is a quick list of some off-the-beaten track stuff that you might not have seen from Great Britain:

ITV’s The Motorbike Show:  Henry Cole of World’s Greatest Motorcycle Rides fame does reviews of motorcycle culture focusing on racing, restoring and interviewing people involved in motorbiking.  I’ve really enjoyed this show, I wish it got more attention here in North America.

Wild Camping by Jo Sinnott is an epic journey from Ireland to Portugal through the best parts of Europe.  Jo takes you wild camping while travelling on her Triumph Bonneville.  If you’re interested in long distance riding, Jo not only shows you through the rough camping ethos but also looks into the mindset you need to survive a long road trip.

ITV and Travel Channel UK represent motorcycle and travel culture on the leading edge. I only wish they were more available in North America.  OLN?  Speed Channel? Pick these up!


Thin Ice

I came from the relative security and certainty of teaching English onto the thin ice of an optional subject area.  Now it’s an optional subject area that I think is vital to student success in the 21st Century, but it’s optional none-the-less.

Why did I spend north of four grand to get qualified in computer technology?  Because it has been a part of my life for so long and I wanted to acknowledge that by teaching it.  By recognizing my industry experience I feel like getting qualified in computer technology has honoured the work I did before I was a teacher.  It also opens up the door to students gaining real world technology experience before becoming swamped in it.  I’m passionate about teaching technology expertise to both staff and students.

Teaching a subject like this is perilous.  You’ve spent a lot of money and time to get the qualification and then you suddenly find the ground has shifted and you aren’t teaching it.  This happened to me before with visual art.  I took the AQ hoping to teach it and suddenly the door closed and someone is transferred in.  That might have been a one off, but it happened again with computers, so I’m twice bitten twice shy.

Today I staggered out of a heads’ meeting that offered three future headship structures, my job as computer head didn’t exist in any of them.  I attempted to argue my case, and a number of heads kindly spoke for me, but when administration presents your choices and what you do isn’t on any of them, you have to wonder if what you’re doing is considered valuable, or even helpful.

There was a lot of talk about what the future holds for our school and how our headship structure should support that future.  Apparently computers and a supportive technology environment don’t have a place in our school’s future.  That is only slightly less exhausting than the idea that what I’ve been doing in the school has hurt rather than helped.  It was suggested that everyone should wait months for support, even in cases where I could get things going in moments.  This is the future we’re aiming for because we don’t want a headship centred around computers?

Technology use isn’t decreasing in our school, and how we’re making use of technology isn’t nearly as monolithic as it once was; the variety of tech in our school has exploded.  Ten years ago we had a single kind of printer in our building, now we have more than thirty different kinds.  Ten years ago the board used to take care of things like network cables and lab setup, not any more.  In a proliferate, increasingly complex and less centrally supported technology environment, we balk at localized support?

The role of computer support in our school is onerous, but one of the things it does for me (sometimes, when I’m not getting bumped for a colleague from another school), is to ensure that I’ll be teaching at least some computer technology classes.  Seeing the work I’ve done as a head given no future has left me wondering if I’ve asked my family to spend thousands of dollars on qualifications that I won’t be able to exercise in the future.  That is frustrating on a lot of levels.

There are a lot of ups and downs in teaching.  The political ground on which you stand is often not what it appears to be, and while many people seem to act out of a sense of certainty, what we are asked to teach is actually very perilous and subject to the whims of others.  

It’s a cold Monday night in February and I’m finding the extra energy I’ve thrown into my profession over the past several years to be in question.  It’s not the kind of place you do your best work from.